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For the ten years of our marriage, my ex-husband and I were heavily involved in our church. I did all the planning and organizing for weekly youth events at our home. Every Sunday, we’d lead worship for the whole congregation and I played the piano and sang. My heart was very much about giving to the kids and working with people.  There was zero financial compensation but it was our work and I supported him in it. He was the one up at the front of the church and everybody really looked up to him. Throughout our whole marriage, it was very much a case of me doing all the background work to make him look good. That was my place and he very much put me there from a religious standpoint. I was supposed to be submissive and all this garbage, which is not how the Bible actually talks about submission.

When I look back now at that marriage, even setting aside his sex addiction and infidelity and lying, he was horrible to me. He was the only man I was ever with, so I didn't even know any better.  For years, I believed his version of religion, that I had to be submissive to him and not question his behaviour, even when my health was obviously at stake.

I was actually a I was a trained voice and piano teacher, and I had about 35 vocal and piano students. I did that for many years. Unfortunately, I had to quit that when my life fell apart because it just wasn't conducive to single parenting. I needed to find work when the kids were in school so I could spend time with them at night.

I don't sing anymore. I don't play the piano. That's really tragic. But it's like that was kind of like almost like I feel like it was stolen from me. The times that I have gone to sit down at the piano and play, I just cry. Maybe someday that'll come back.

To this day, it's appalling to me how the church covers up for him. He's at a different church, probably the biggest one in town, and he’s leading worship. I wrote the pastor a letter explaining the things he did to our family, and I never got a response. I do believe that people should be offered forgiveness, but there are also consequences for your behavior. If a doctor does something sexual to a patient or illegally administers medication, they have their license stripped. Why is it different for a pastor? You should lose the privilege of working with youth because of what you’ve done in the past.

When I started that new job, I was the only woman there which, at the time, was really difficult. It was also, I think, really good at the same time. I ended up telling the guy I worked with closely closely a bit of what I was going through, and he was taken aback and didn't know what to do. In my experience, some of the discomfort people have is about fear of emotions at work.  In fact, what the person needs is tangible physical support. “Do you need a bit of extra time off? Yes, absolutely.” My work has been wonderful, but in my opinion, it’s still a man's world.  When my ex and I split, he went to work and didn't have to worry about three kids. I did.  I had to work my job around caring for children. It’s harder for women, it just is and I think it’s important for employers to know that. I'd love to say we're live in an equal society but we don't, at least not in this town.

Providing the Domestic Violence and Your Workplace (DVWP) program to Strathmore and area was something our organization was passionate about and bringing it to life has been rewarding for everyone involved. It didn’t come without a few challenges. I must admit my first attempts to engage businesses fell flat. They stated they already had a DV policy and did not require any additional information or support. So, I started small …… very small …… like two people small. I provided friends who own a business a presentation and asked them to be honest about their thoughts. Their feedback was invaluable and from there I understood connecting with people’s hearts and desire to better their communities, not their desire to understand legislation or policy is where I needed to come from. Since then I have promoted this workshop as essential information not just for businesses, but for all people who want to do better and know more about responding to domestic violence.

I learned it is vital for me to have speaking notes in my own voice to feel confident presenting this information. I spent hours perfecting notes for each slide that include personal stories, anecdotes and examples from the work we do at WCS. Speaking from experience and real-life situations feels more sincere and participants become more invested as a result.

Reminding participants that they have permission to laugh promotes a non-judgmental and warm atmosphere, which is important when the topic can feel so heavy. I was recently speaking with college students and during an activity where they were asked to write down examples of cultural abuse. I came around to their board and read aloud for all to hear “North Korea”. I laughed and agreed, yes this was an example of cultural abuse and we all agreed that Kim Jong Un is one evil guy. It broke the intensity of our conversation and made everyone feel more at ease.  My personal style is informal and relaxed, and the participants should be too. Beginning and ending the presentation with a review of the key goals reminds everyone why they are there and reinforces what we aim to do.

Over the past ten months we have reached six groups in three different communities with this program. Municipal offices have been very receptive to the work and instrumental in spreading the word about what citizens have to gain from attending a presentation. Reach out to your friends, supporters and local officials. Start with those who are already invested, and the word will spread about the value of the education you can offer to them.

Safety Moment with Astrid:  Duty to Establish a Health & Safety Program 

An Employer with 20 or more employees needs to establish a health & safety program.  This program must have the "10 Basic Elements" and be reviewed at least every three years.  If you have fewer than 20 employees no program is required, but the employer must involve workers in hazard assessment and control. 

Legislation (hyperlinked to:


10 basic Elements of a Health and Safety Program

  1. A health and safety policy that states the policy for the protection and maintenance of the health and safety of workers at the work site. Health and Safety Policy sets the tone for your organization and is an important framework for the health and safety management system.
  2. Identification of existing and potential hazards to workers at the work site, including harassment, violence, physical, biological, chemical or radiological hazards and measures that will be taken to eliminate, reduce or control those hazards;
  3. An emergency response plan. Review the emergencies applicable to your work site and make sure you have a plan to respond. Your plan should take into consideration communication systems, emergency phone numbers, emergency response personnel, appropriate responses and monitoring the effectiveness of the program.
  4. A statement of the responsibilities of the employer, supervisors and workers at the work site. Clearly stated and communicated responsibilities defines roles and must be clearly communicated to workers through various means such as job descriptions, meetings, site specific HSE plans, training, etc. 
  5. A schedule and procedures for regular inspection of the work site. Regular inspection of all aspects of your worksite is an employer obligation. Ensure you develop a schedule that includes all areas and involves all levels of your organization.
  6. Procedures to be followed to protect health and safety when another employer or self-employed person is involved in work at the work site, including criteria for evaluating and selecting and for regularly monitoring those employers and self-employed persons.
  7. Worker and supervisor health and safety orientation and training. A worker must receive adequate training to protect their health and safety before they begin performing a work activity, use new equipment, perform a new process, or is moved to another area or work site.
  8. Procedures for investigating incidents, injuries and refusals to work. A systematic approach to incident investigation and analysis is essential to an effective occupational health and safety program.
  9. Procedures for worker participation in work site health and safety, including inspections and the investigation of incidents, injuries and refusals to work.
  10. Procedures for reviewing and revising the health and safety program if circumstances at a work site change in a way that creates or could create a hazard to workers.


8 Steps to a Safer Workplace
by Astrid Mitchell and Christie Lavan

Domestic Violence happens everywhere and is a safety hazard for organizations. Consider the employee who is being stalked by their dangerous ex-partner; Consider the operator of heavy machinery who is distracted with dynamics at home. When you begin to learn more about case studies of tragedy striking workplaces and consider how bystanders may be caught in the cross-fire, it can be overwhelming.

The Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Regulations require employers to have violence and harassment policy and procedures, including hazard assessments and training for staff. This requirement includes domestic violence in the workplace, and the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters offers a toolkit, templates and support to guide you in developing your own response.

In addition to meeting, and ideally exceeding, legal and legislative requirements and mitigating risk for your worksite, ACWS challenges workplaces of all sizes to employ the following steps from the Domestic Violence and Your Workplace toolkit to lead change. Do what you can to help make your workplace violence-free and empower your workers to respond to a complex issue.

1.Management Commitment
A key to the success of crafting the response at your organization is the commitment of your management team. Walk the talk by modeling nonviolent principles and resource the team tasked with implementing the toolkit. It means something to have the leadership acknowledge this issue.

2. A Domestic Violence Team
Form a "DV team" to drive this work at your organization and ensure the intervention is comprehensive and consistent. Depending on the size of your organization, this team might include representatives from the Joint Worksite Health & Safety Committee, Human Resources, Security, Legal, and Management.

3. Policy
Your policy is the framework for your Domestic Violence and your Workplace program and sets the tone for your organization's commitment to address and respond to this workplace hazard. It's during this phase that the DV Team can work with OH&S staff to conduct site inspections and hazard assessments, with the lens of an employee living with domestic violence.

4. Staff Awareness
Everyone has the right to work in safety and security. Provide staff a chance to give input and participate in the first stages of the program. Include awareness training for all staff on the prevalence of this issue, the signs of domestic violence and how to get expert help.

5. A Healthy Workplace Culture
Developing and implementing a Domestic Violence in the Workplace program may be the inspiration your organization needs to improve the health of your workplace culture. A positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises the morale, increases productivity and efficiency, and enhances retention of the workforce.

6. Responder Team Training
Select a multi-disciplinary team of employees to receive in-depth training on gender-based violence to respond to disclosures at the worksite appropriately be stronger bridges to outside supports. Responder Teams receive formal training on how to recognize the signs and reach out to colleagues, offering to guide them through our Workplace Safety Planning tools.

7. Employee Awareness
Include regular training for all staff in your policy and procedures. Include information during your onboarding procedures for new staff on domestic violence as a workplace safety hazard. Post materials that communicate who the Responder Team members are so that all staff know who to go to for Workplace Safety Planning and community support.

8. Community Links
Many organizations benefit from developing ongoing relationships with local women's shelters and anti-violence organizations. Reach out and build community partnerships. Offer resources to staff to get support from the experts.




Dear friends,

The newly released report from the MacKinnon Panel on the state of the provincial finances has certainly stirred up some conversations.  The panel issued 26 recommendations about how to reduce public expenditure with a view to deficit elimination and debt repayment.  One item which also comes across clearly is the positive role of non-profits in delivering services and making an impact.

ACWS members already deliver cost-effective services on behalf of the government and they deliver very high-quality outcomes.  This was a message ACWS and shelter directors delivered on multiple occasions to the various members of the provincial government in meetings over the summer.   Women's shelters - who have operated for such a long time on a very tight budget - are experts in spending wisely and fruitfully. 

The Premier gave his personal assurances to shelter directors that his government would follow through on their platform commitment to ringfence existing expenditure on women's shelters.  This is a welcome commitment for ACWS members.  We are also working closely with government to find ways to eliminate and reduce the extensive red tape which shelters face.  Reducing bureaucratic processes will help to free up staff to focus on the core business of transforming lives. 

All of this is crucial because we want to avoid leaving future generations with a mountain of social debt (which manifests in a hidden financial deficient.)  Gender inequality adds costs to the bottom line.   Tackling the root causes of inequality, addictions, mental health issues, obesity, poor school performance and poor workplace performance will allow us to reduce that social debt and eliminate the hidden deficit for future generations. 

After decades of chronic underfunding Alberta's women's shelters remain stretched beyond capacity to achieve this goal (even though their positive impact is documented by ample evidence).  In our position paper on Red Tape reduction 'Safer Families, Stronger Communities' (see below) submitted to members of the provincial government we cite a study which indicates that the cost of domestic violence on the provincial coffers each year is almost one billion dollars.  If our domestic violence epidemic continues this financial cost will continue to rise in relationship with the social debt and hidden deficit to future generations.  Alongside the global instability caused by the changing climate a failure to invest now could have very serious consequences in the short-term and the long-term.

Non-profit organisations, in particular women's shelters, offer a highly attractive investment opportunity because of their capacity to create safer families and stronger communities.  Investing in them will reduce the long term financial demands on the province's health and education systems and the long term social debt: the pain of thousands of women and children who carry the trauma of their abuse with them every day.

Wise government expenditure today will reverberate down through many generations.

Yours sincerely,


Trevor and Bernice reside in a rural Alberta community. The couple has been together 6 years and have two small children. They are struggling with financial pressures, parenting challenges and an inability to communicate about either. Both are working multiple part time jobs and the toll is weighing heavily on both. Bernice’s mother travels to Alberta to assist the young couple with childcare. Rather than alleviate strain, having extended family in the home exacerbates the existing struggles.

The relationship which has been riddled with conflict reaches a boiling point, resulting in Bernice being pushed down the steps in the garage as Trevor attempts to leave the home enraged. RCMP are called and Trevor is arrested. He is removed from the home and conditions are imposed which restrict him from contacting Bernice or attending the family home. Trevor stays with friends several nights, before deciding to live in his truck. His first court appearance is 6 weeks away.

The family violence prevention program is designed to support couple’s like Trevor and Bernice. The outcomes are meaningful when couples are engaged and supported in their plans for the future. Bernice is contacted to collect a relationship history and complete a detailed risk assessment. Safety planning remains a priority throughout the process. Involving Bernice in identifying risk factors ensures that a criminal resolution is responsive to her individual circumstance. Bernice is provided community referrals and resources.  She becomes involved with shelter Outreach services where she is able to access supportive counselling and assistance with parenting orders and other community referrals. She is supported with ongoing safety planning and receives education on healthy relationships.

Trevor is contacted to assess his commitment and motivation to change. If Trevor demonstrates insight and a willingness to participate in programming, referrals are provided to Men’s treatment programs. Initiating contact with Trevor at a very early stage capitalizes on his motivation to be a better father and husband. It provides a goal to focus on prior to his court date. Encouraging him to use the time to seek support and counselling contributes to lowered risk should the couple decide to reconcile. Trevor will have acquired new skills and insight during his treatment program which will align with the work Bernice has been doing.

When a couple is supported in the community in which they live, receiving services specific to their circumstance and doing so concurrently the likelihood of success is exponentially higher.

Upon completion of the 15-week treatment program Trevor enters into a Peace Bond which ensures a year of ongoing monitoring and availability of services. Bernice is confident that Trevor has been held accountable and will remain committed to the changes he has made. The couple remains enriched by their expanded circle of supports that includes valuable community agencies designed to support families is distress. The new skills each has acquired supports the success of both.

At the end of Trevor’s Peace Bond the couple prepares a letter and delivers it to the local shelter. They express their gratitude, and acknowledge their respect for each other and the commitment of the community who supported them.


Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef MP,  and representatives from non-profits gather at McMahon Stadium for the funding announcement to ACWS and other organisations seeking to engage men and boys on gender-based violence.  Read more.



Dear friends,

This past month ACWS has been attending meetings with the new government.  To date we have met with the Premier, the Minister of Indigenous Relations, the Minister of Community and Social Services, the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General and the Minister of Culture, Multi-Culturalism and Status of Women.   We also had the chance to meet with the NDP Critics on both Status of Women and Community Social Services.

Our focus was on delivering the message of shelter expertise in the area of violence against women.  We supported this message with a document entitled 'Safer Families, Stronger Communities: Reducing the Costs of Domestic Violence in Alberta.'

The document includes a number of proposals on how to reduce red tape faced by charitable organisations,  and broaden the impact of women's shelters to support positive outcomes for women, children and seniors.

We were heartened by all of the meetings.  Although women's shelters survive on very limited funds from the public purse - and more is certainly needed - we were comforted by the Premier's assurance that his government would uphold the UCP's election commitment to ring-fence the current funding for shelters.  However, we will continue to push home the need for more funding and for the need to develop strategies to eliminate turnaways from shelters.

We also spoke extensively to all elected representatives about the importance of information sharing, especially in the context of Clare's Law.  Clare's Law is modelled on a UK initiative which allows potential or actual victims to seek information about the criminal history of their partner.  We proposed that implementing Clare's Law could be most effective if it was introduced in the context of High-Risk Case Management Tables.  Through our Safety from Domestic Violence project, two shelters (CAWES and Capella Centre) are pioneering new ways of sharing information sharing across government and community agencies.  This would be a Canada-wide first if introduced here in Alberta.

By developing the law in the context of known high-risk cases women who learn of a partner's abusive past can receive the information with the appropriate supports to conduct safety planning, access other necessary services (protection from law enforcement, access to government benefits if required).  

ACWS data shows that close to two-thirds of women entering a shelter are assessed to be at high or extreme risk of being murdered by their intimate partners so this could represent a significant step.  In the UK there have been many challenges with the implementation of the law, including an already over-stretched bureaucracy which may take weeks or months to process information requests.  A secondary challenge is that women may not want to receive the information (it could be a family member who requested it on their behalf) or if they want it, and get it, they do not know what to do next.  Or if women do request the information who provides them with the information and with what supports?

Imagine you are informed that your partner has a history of abusing animals or of physically abusing a previous partner.  What if you also know he owns a gun.  What if he knows that you asked for his criminal history and is unhappy about it.  What next? In the absence of comprehensive supports, this information risks causing as much confusion as it seeks to end.  Providing the information with supports from shelter outreach workers, effective safety planning strategies and necessary government supports is a much more effective way of helping women make sense of what steps to take.  We look forward to working with the new government to make sure that their legislative initiative is as effective on behalf of Albertan women, children and seniors as possible.   That is how we can all build safer families and stronger communities.

Yours sincerely,




The Guilty Feminist Podcast.
"I'm a feminist but... one time I went on a women’s rights march, and I popped into a department store to use the loo, and I got distracted trying out face cream. And when I came out the march was gone." 

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum
The Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic discusses everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Jessica Jones and debates how we should relate to the good art and the badly behaved artist in the #MeToo era.

Not A Pretty Girl? 
Ani Di Franco is sold out in Calgary
- but fortunately, you can still catch her at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Stranger Things 3

She's powerful.  She's fearless.  She fights monsters. 
She's had an '80s makeover and dumped her boyfriend for saying girls are a different species.
Is Eleven a perfect summer-time feminist hero?  We think so...

























Dear friends,

Bill 202/2019, currently going through the legislature, is an important piece in the jigsaw of safeguarding children. But we must also remember the other pieces of this massive and complex puzzle.

If you’re hopping on a plane this summer take a moment to listen to the safety announcement. First, you put on your own oxygen mask, then take care of your kids after that. The same applies to domestic abuse: when we look after the safety of mothers we support the wellbeing of their children.

Between 2016-18 in Alberta, women's shelters served 18,136 children, around half of them were pre-schoolers. Most of us can not imagine the lives these children have lived. They may see their mother being assaulted and demeaned, hear loud conflict and violence or witness the aftermath. Abusers may threaten, or use, violence against the children or talk inappropriately to them about their mother.

Research by the Public Health Agency of Canada (2003) indicates that neglect, exposure to domestic abuse and physical abuse are the three most common forms of child abuse. The impact of this is both immediate but also long-lasting. In a famous study in the USA on ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ by Dr. Robert Anda it was shown that ending the abuse of women and children would reduce the overall rate of depression by half, and alcoholism,  suicide, drug use and domestic violence by two-thirds. 

This is why interventions to end child abuse are so important: as is the understanding of the interplay between child abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Bill 202 updates previous legislation so that the existing duty of care for children – already held by every citizen – is clarified so we can report abuse directly to police.  Failure to do so could result in a $10,000 fine or a prison term.

The intent of this update is to hold the safety and well-being of a child as a sacred social duty. This sentiment is something we all should endorse. The 19th-century historian WH Lecky argued that we all engage in an ever-expanding circle of concern. It starts with the individual, then the family, all the way to “a nation, a coalition of nations, all humanity and…the animal world.”

Bill 202 supports this idea that we are all responsible for the rights of children. Extending this, we are also all responsible for the rights of abused women. However, while Bill 202 successfully closes one loophole it risks opening a number of others.  

One existing reality of the mandatory duty to report is that mothers who are doing everything in their power to protect themselves (and their children) are accused of child neglect.  This happens if they can not access adequate supports to protect the children by leaving the abusive relationship.  This results in their children being taken from them even though we know that instances providing wrap-around supports for women and children is better for them and less costly to society.

We also know that abusers often weaponise the law to use it as a tool against women.  After all, for a man who could kill his children, his partner and then himself, malicious use of the weight of the law against his family means nothing.  Any enforcement of this law needs to be done with an understanding of how domestic abusers are able to manipulate systems to maintain their power and control.

Finally, in the case where people and communities have had bad experiences with police (in Canada or in their country of origin), they may not trust law enforcement agencies enough to phone 911.

How do we solve these problems? Firstly, we must ensure that anyone facing abuse can access trauma and violence-informed care when they need it. This requires ongoing and expanded investment as well as more education of professionals on the dynamics of abuse.

Secondly, we must continue to build trust between government agencies (including law enforcement and Children’s Services) and those communities who experience racism.  Women’s shelters play an important role supporting effective interventions for the mother as she navigates complex systems, such as criminal justice and child welfare.   We also require a whole of society approach to ensure that institutional racism is eradicated from our government systems.

Shelter staff face ethical dilemmas every day on the issue of care for children and for women. Their role is not an easy one in balancing the rights of children and building women's trust (as you will see in the story from Odyssey House later in this newsletter). ACWS will continue to canvass members to identify the long-term impact of Bill 202 on shelter staff and the women and children they support.

So, if on a rainy summer day you find yourself doing a jigsaw puzzle keep in mind that as with Bill 202 every piece counts but when it comes to preventing child abuse we have many more pieces to go.

Yours sincerely,



About a year ago a woman, Lindsay (not her real name), and her children came into Odyssey House Shelter. We usually try to talk about our legal duty to report to Children’s Services about any concerns for the safety of children as early as possible in the shelter intake process.  But before we had that conversation with Lindsay she took her children to visit her abusive ex-partner. An hour before she was due back RCMP called to ask if Lindsay was in shelter.  They told us that there was an open investigation and that Lindsay’s ex-partner posed a danger to the children.  No other details were given.  Suddenly, we had an ethical dilemma on our hands.   

The work of women’s shelters never endsWe are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week supporting women and their children.  About a year ago a woman, Lindsay, and her children came into Odyssey House shelter.  We usually try to talk about our legal duty to report to ? as early as possible in the shelter intake process.  But before we had that conversation with Lindsay she took her children to visit her abusive ex-partner.  An hour before she was due back, RCMP called to ask if Lindsay was in shelter.  They told us that there was an open investigation and that Lindsay’s ex-partner posed a danger to the children.  No other details were given.  Suddenly, we had an ethical dilemma on our hands.   

We had not given Lindsey appropriate notice of our duty to report.  We facilitated her visit to her ex-partner because we believe women are experts in their own lives and we want to walk beside them in their complex journey.  We know the hoops women must jump through when leaving an abusive relationship and we respect the decisions she makes.  

We also believe in informed consent, in involving women at every step of their journey.  If we are calling Children’s Services we usually involve the woman in this process too.  We want women to feel empowered and to trust us as their supporters and their advocates.  

Our choice seemed to be between trust and safety.  We were uncertain what to do. 

One option was to wait until Lindsay was back in shelter.  On her return we could talk with her about safety and our duty to report.  The other option was to call Child Family Services and report to them the small amount of information we had. 

Our staff have been through the Ethics – Foundation Issues workshop by Dr. Dawn McBride (in conjunction with ACWS).  The workshop includes tools for working through ethical dilemmas. The tool we used in this case was “Will your use of power pass these ethical tests?”.  This tool consists of five questions to ask yourself before you make a decision

The tool recognizes the power difference between shelter staff and, in this case, Lindsay.  It allows staff to reflect on the various implications of power-based decisions to ensure they have a holistic view of the implications of each choice.


Will your use of power pass these ethical tests?

1. Tell the Public Test (Public scrutiny; would you want your action, along with your name, to be published in the local newspaper? On social media?)

2. Reversibility Test (Is this how I would want to be treated, if the situation was reversed – “if I was the client?”)

3. Professional Test (What would a committee of my peers say about my action? What would a person of high moral character say about my action? What would a lawyer say? What would A funder say?)

4. Universality Test (Apply to others; Would you make this same decision for other clients too? Is there a bias that facilitates “special” treatment for some?)

5. Test of Gain: (Do I gain more than the client by my decision, e.g., gain power? gain fame? gain “strokes”, gain “relief” of not having to do my job?


Our staff worked through the questions using the information we had.  We decided to call Children’s Services. They decided to come to the shelter and wait for Lindsay to return.  When Lindsay returned, she was upset at our decision.  She decided to leave the shelter.  We explained to her our legal obligation to protect her children.  Although she left the shelter Lindsay got hooked up with an Odyssey House Community Support Worker.  The CSW supported her through the court system, helped her get a parenting order, and found a local daycare spot for her children. 

These types of situations are tough and complex.  It often feels like there is no good outcome.  In other cases the ending to the story could have been much different: perhaps we would never have heard from her again. She may have struggled through the end of her relationship without any supports.  She may have returned to her abuser.  So, we were happy that Lindsay continued to reach out to us. 

People who have experienced trauma as a consequence of their relationship may make decisions that do not appear to support the best interests of the child.  They have endured years of manipulation.  So, the role of a shelter is to support women’s journey to safety by building trust.  A tension can live between trust and safety. Lindsay is a compassionate mother and a resilient person who continues to work with our team and has built up community supports within the Grande Prairie area all of which help keep her safe. 


The Alberta Council of Women’ Shelter works with 39 members across Alberta.  Each member is different, from the size of the building and floorplan, to whether they accept pets, to the different types of outreach services they provideFind a Shelter.But all ACWS members sign up to a statement supporting our Ethical & Moral Framework which they apply in their daily practice.

What remains the same throughout ACWS members are the ethical shelter practices. At the start of 2019 ACWS launched a pilot project for members that emphasized educating women, children, and seniors coming into shelters. The project aims to simplify the intake process so that at a distressing and complicated time people can understand their rights and make informed choices about what they consent to.

One of the most important lessons in the pilot project is the understanding of very important words.  

‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘I Don’t Know’, ‘Pass’, ‘I Don’t Want to Answer’, ‘Stop’, and ‘Goodbye’.

For some women entering shelter this might be the first time they have been given real permission to use these words in a very long time. 

For a person who has been exposed to trauma saying these words aloud may be the first steps to them feeling self-empowerment and in control.  Discussing the 7 Very Important Words as soon as a person enters a shelter is a simple and yet powerful way to acknowledge that women’s and seniors’ shelters are an ally to those experiencing violence and abuse. Shelters are there to support healing, promote safety, and not to take away their voice. 

Shelters will inform a woman that she has the right to say any of these five words.  Saying them also has consequences. For example, someone may decline the opportunity to complete a Danger Assessment.  Then the shelter worker would advise them of the consequence: they will not be able to assess the levels of risk of the woman being murdered by her abuser which informs her safety plans. 

Adopted from the Informed Consent Pilot Resource Package. Please e-mail Catherine Hickman for more information. 



I came to the shelter one morning feeling tired, upset and nervous. I was met at the door by a welcoming staff member, invited inside and shown a place to put my belongings down. The staff member invited me to join her in a small but friendly office, pulled out a chair for me to settle in and offered me a warm mug of tea. The Staff was about to shut the door when I said, “Please don’t close it.” The Staff said, “No problem” and left it open. 

I came to the shelter one morning feeling tired, upset and nervous. I was met at the door by a welcoming staff member, invited inside and shown a place to put my belongings down. The staff member invited me to join her in a small but friendly office, pulled out a chair for me to settle in and offered me a warm mug of tea. The Staff was about to shut the door when I said, “Please don’t close it.” The Staff said, “No problem” and left it open. 

The Staff asked me some questions about my name and health needs as well as if I wanted to talk about why I came to the shelter. I worried about upsetting the Staff by saying no but I was too tired, so I said, “Not right now.” Again, the Staff said, “No problem. It’s great that you take good care of yourself by saying no when you need to.” The Staff led the way to a small bedroom and explained that I would be sharing this bedroom with another single woman. We would each have our own bed and space to store clothing. The Staff said that lunch would be at noon, but I didn’t have to join for meals if I wasn’t ready. The Staff left, and I laid down to rest. I was still feeling upset but much less nervous. 

Later in the afternoon when I went downstairs, I was smiled at by a few other women. They asked me who I was and where I came from. “I thought the Staff would’ve told you about me,” I said. “No, they don’t tell anyone about anyone else. They say it’s our right to share what we want with one another,” said one of the women. I was waved over by the same Staff I had spoken to that morning. The Staff asked how I was settling in and if I’d like to talk more. I said yes but asked if we could talk somewhere other than the office. “Thanks again for letting me know what you need,” the worker said, “Absolutely we can go someplace else. Where would you like to go? There is a space for meetings, or maybe your room?” I suggested we sit outside. The worker explained some of the privacy risks to that like being overheard by other, but I said I was okay with that. As we started talking on the porch the Staff shared some information about the shelter and the programs and support that were offered there. The Staff let me know that in a few days we could talk about my goals while in the shelter and the support available to help me start working towards them.

Adopted from the Informed Consent Pilot Resource Package. Please e-mail Catherine Hickman for more information. 


Dear Friends,

“Creator, give the wisdom and courage to our lawmakers, police and anyone who is called to help a woman who is suffering abuse or violence or who has gone missing. May they see she is a woman, who has loved ones, is a member of our community and not, first, look to see if fault can be found on the woman. It is never her fault.”   

  •  Elder Rita Gordon’s prayer at the closing ceremony of the National Enquiry in to Missing and Murdered Indigenous women. 

On Monday Canadians were asked to face an uncomfortable truth with the release of the full report of the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The report found that our treatment of Indigenous people is not simply a social justice issue, nor a series of political failures: it is the culmination of many years of genocidal policies. The original inhabitants of this land, and their descendants, were usurped from the land.  Then policies, strategies and brutal tactics were employed to remove access to the natural resources and destroy their rich cultures.   


The word has immense power.  It conjures up images of Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and – of course – World War II. And while the word carries all this power it is easy to be distracted by this density and sidestep the substantive issues.  The fundamental purpose of this report, and its many predecessors, (including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), is to transform our society so we live in a new society, based on trust, dignity and mutual respect. 

The report is well-written and well-reasoned. It's many recommendations for societal transformation will not be easy to dismiss. They need to be considered by every institution and every individual.  To do otherwise would be, borrowing from Romeo Dallaire, to continue “shaking hands with the Devil”.   

For the women’s shelters movement the implications are enormous and the recommendations are vast. Many of them chime with what ACWS has been advocating for many years including the need for culturally safe and empowering services, informed by approaches which are cognizant of the impact of trauma and violence, and delivered to all Canadians. 

One of the Inquiry’s Overarching Recommendations is to ensure that services provided by and for Indigenous women and girls receive appropriate funding. In 2012 ACWS conducted a study of the funding gap between provincial and On-Reserve shelters in which we established that On-Reserve shelters received significantly less than their provincial sisters. Since then the gap has continued to widen. We will continue to Walk the Path together with our On-Reserve members to find the best ways to highlight issues such as this. We will also be working to ensure that the provincial government’s new Commission on the Elimination of Red Tape closely examines the issue of documenting each women who comes from a reserve to stay in an off reserve shelter. This bureaucratic process adds additional stigma on women from reserve while also wrapping shelter staff up in endless unnecessary form filling and other bureaucratic acts so the provincial government can claim general funds from the federal government, and so profiting from each abused woman who walks through the door of the shelter.  It is a deplorable piece of bureaucracy which should be ended. 

It would also be too easy to allow the results of this Inquiry to paint a two-dimensional picture of the lives of Indigenous women. Indeed, the Inquiry acknowledges this when it recommends that the media and all levels of government need to take greater strides in shifting away from negative stereotypes and empowering greater participation so that Indigenous women can tell their own stories. 

We know that Indigenous women are graduating from third-level institutions at higher rates than ever before and that they are making enormous strides as entrepreneurs.  These stories, too, are part of the rich tapestry being woven showing us that change can happen. 

The release of this report will spark a fierce societal debate. There are those who will argue that it is nothing new.  Indeed, we have seen similar recommendations in numerous previous reports and the recommendations have been systemically ignored by those in power. On the other side there are those who would have preferred that this report was never commissioned and never saw the light of day.  

For me this report represents a clarion call.  It is not the first one and I fear that it will not be the last.  But that does not strip away its significance. If we are to rebuild that sense of trust and mutual respect we, as Settlers, must be willing to deliver on our promises because this is the most fundamental building block of trust. Only then can it be said that we have turned and begun to shake hands with Creator. 

Yours sincerely, 

Jan Reimer 



Marina is 70 years young. She shares her apartment with the light of her life, her little dog Zach.  She is a petite woman who sports a fashionable pixie cut and is quick to laugh. Marina has a network of friends, is involved in a variety of social wellness activities and has become an expert on setting and maintaining boundaries. She has spent the past year evolving into the force of nature she is today - and she has the tattoo to prove it.  Early in 2018 the Sage Seniors Safe House was contacted by a Family and Community Social Services (FCSS) worker from a small town 2 hours away from Edmonton. This worker was very concerned about an older adult woman named Marina who was experiencing domestic violence and was wondering if the Safe House could be a source of support. 


An over the phone intake interview was quickly organized to determine if the Safe House was the best fit for this woman. During the phone call we learned that Marina had suffered many types of abuse, for decades, at the hands of her spouse. Charges had been laid by police for a recent physical assault, a no contact order had been granted and the spouse was being held in hospital. Marina saw this as the opportunity to break free from the relationship and move to Edmonton where she could “disappear”. During the telephone interview Marina was soft spoken and shared her story through her tears. The abuse from her spouse had escalated in recent years and she was more afraid than ever for her life. As is often the case, she had made attempts to leave in the past when she could At the time of the call the Safe House did not have an available space however spouse’s stay in hospital was indefinite, giving Marina and her worker time to plan her move. The Safe House team coached and guided the FCSS worker on affordable housing options in Edmonton that accepted pets and the services available in Edmonton that Marina would have access to including the support of the Intensive Case Management Coordinator (ICM) with the Safe House. 


Marina, with the support of her FCSS worker secured a place for her and Zach in Edmonton.  With the help of her family she moved into her new home. Marina quickly connected with the Safe House ICM along with a Health Services Nurse Practitioner at Sage and began her journey to live free from abuse.  When Marina first began working with the ICM she, as is to be expected, was experiencing a great deal of anxiety and a much depleted sense of self-worth and confidence, she lived with a tremendous amount of fear about everything and seemed to be almost folded in on herself. 


The ICM worked with Marina to create a safety plan, access financial resources including her pensions and the Fleeing Abuse Benefit and connect to resources such as Community Geriatric Psychiatry. During the year that followed, Marina learned Edmonton’s transportation system, participated in groups at the Safe House and connected with a domestic violence counsellor. She participated and flourished in an in-patient mental health recovery program and subsequent out-patient program where she gained amazing friends and overcame barriers, participated in Life Enrichment social recreation activities at Sage Seniors Association and so much more. While doing all of this, with the ICM by her side, she navigated the court processes necessary to maintain her safety with protection orders. 

More than a year later Marina is almost unrecognizable as that small scared woman who we first got to know. Not only is she thriving on her recovery journey, she is a source of great support to other older adults who have experienced abuse. Two weeks ago Marina came to the support group at the Safe House sporting a tattoo. She told us that she had always wanted a tattoo but her spouse wouldn’t allow it. Not only did she get a tattoo, she got it on the arm that he had injured and made weak. The tattoo Marina has is of a dragon with a sword. For her the image represents strength and she now calls this arm her “power arm”. 


Marina, thank you for bringing the Safe House team along on your journey. You are an inspiration and a wonderful example of strength and resilience. 



Elder abuse is often hidden as the elderly are frequently reluctant to speak out. ACWS has identified the following as barriers which may prevent the elderly from reporting abuse:  


1. Fear of being punished, of institutionalization, of rejection or abandonment by family members, of losing their caregiver, of losing access to family members, including grandchildren.


2. Love for the abuser  


3. Lack of understanding or impairment  


4. Shame and/or guilt. Victims of elder abuse may blame themselves for the violence and neglect they experience. They may feel ashamed of what has happened to them.  


5. Unaware of resources and options.  


6. Acceptance of abuse or neglect as normal. 





Source: Unpack Magazine 

“Just as justice is what love looks like in public, tenderness is what love feels like in private. To be a great father, you must be a militant for tenderness, an extremist for love, a fanatic for fairness, and, in the larger society, a drum major for justice.”
– Dr. Cornel West

If we watch television, listen to the radio, and follow the advice of parenting books, it is easy to understand how confusing the messages we receive about fatherhood can be.

We may hear: “You have to be tough on your kids; you have to be gentle with your kids. You have to provide for your family; you have to be an equal partner in housework. You are the head of the family; you are part of a team. You must be strong; you must be soft. You must tell your kids what to do; you must listen.”

It can make it hard to know what our roles and responsibilities as fathers should be. One way to help shape our decisions is to think about the outcome we are hoping for, and the goals that will lead us there.

One of the goals I have for my children is for them to live in and contribute to a world where all people are safe, strong and free regardless of their gender. I see my role as a father as central in helping them think about what it means to be a man in today’s world and how relationships between people – regardless of gender – can thrive.

“Fathers can play a powerful role in supporting our children as they move towards a future where all people can be safe, strong and free.”

There are 5 main guiding principles I use as a father to contribute to gender equity.

1. How I interact with and talk about women: modeling my belief that all people have value begins at home with how I treat the women in my family and how I talk about all women.

2. How I contribute to our home and family life: recognizing that the work I do in the home and with my family is just as valuable as the work I do outside the home.

3. How I respect my children: whatever my child’s gender is I try to respect them and their choices. They may not make the choices I would make but they are their own people.

4. How I teach my children: children of all genders have a right to be safe, strong and free. At the same time, they don’t have the right to restrict the rights of others. This is critical learning that we can teach in many ways.

5. How I teach my children to make decisions about their own bodies: teaching our children that their body is their own is a powerful message to them. We can do this by not forcing them to hug and kiss family members and by letting them make decisions about their own bodies.

Whether we are the fathers of boys, girls or children of any gender we can play a powerful role in supporting them thriving and moving towards a future in which all people can be safe, strong and free.

Tuval is the Leading Change Community Developer at ACWS. Leading Change offers gender-based violence prevention training for a variety of clients: schools, businesses, government, non-profits and communities. Find out how you can lead change by booking a consultation